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ABM: trade show revenue surpasses print revenue for first time

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For the first time ever in b-to-b media, face-to-face revenue surpassed print revenue in 2006, according to a new report from American Business Media.

The report, released last week, found that trade shows accounted for 36% ($11.3 billion) of overall b-to-b media revenue of $31.1 billion, compared with 35% ($10.9 billion) for print; and 14% ($4.3 billion) for e-media. The remaining 15% consisted primarily of rich data/business information and traditional data, such as lists, reprints and other traditional b-to-b marketing vehicles.

Trade shows are now the third fastest growing segment of business media, said Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM. (Face-to-face revenue did not include stand-alone conferences.)

Last year, trade shows grew 10% compared with 2005. That was only topped by custom media (18% growth) and e-media (22% growth). Traditional print ad revenue was up 0.61%, while print ad pages were up 0.68%.

The report is a "big deal because we always thought of magazines as the brand," Hughes said. "What we now know is that each individual medium becomes its own brand and doesn't have to depend on magazines."

Hughes added: "When you look at b-to-b media and business information you have to look at it holistically, and when you do you realize it's still a robust industry. The model is just changing." B-to-b media executives said they weren’t surprised by the report’s findings.

"This is not new for anyone who has looked at the trend lines," said Margaret Pederson, president of Penton Exhibitions, one of the largest producers of conferences and trade shows, with more than 96 events annually spanning more than 30 business sectors. "Post 9/11 was a tough time and some of the weaker shows didn't survive. But what happened was the stronger shows got more innovative and more sophisticated."

Pederson also attributed the gain in trade shows to the rise of the Internet. "As people spend more time face-to-face with a computer, real face-to-face becomes more important," she said. "It's the opposite of what people thought would happen."

Bill Cooke, senior VP of Nielsen Business Media, said of the rise of trade shows, "This is a fundamental shift that's been taking place for 10 years."

Cooke, who oversees Nielsen Business Media's travel, performance and marketing services groups, said b-to-b media executives "need to think of the trade show as the biblical model. They didn't call ancient bazaars 'trade shows,' but these things have been going on ever since humans started to collaborate."

Philip Chapnick, senior VP of CMP Technology’s Innovator Group, amplified those sentiments.

"There's a basic human psychology of people wanting to get together with their peers, and it doesn't go away," said Chapnick, who oversees about a dozen major trade shows annually, including the Game Developers Conference and Software Development Conference.

Chapnick said many of CMP’s major shows grew at least 10% in 2006. The reason? The Internet, he said. "The Web extends the trade show experience and keeps the community together for the whole year, rather than dispersing after three days," he said.

Richard Mead, managing director of media investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group, stressed that it has been predicted for some time that events would eventually overtake magazines in revenues. Nonetheless, he said, "print still has a significant role to play, and the market-leading titles will continue to generate good returns across most industry sectors."

One analyst questioned whether additional media components that accompany events should be counted as face-to-face revenue.

"If your events group produces a printed show directory does that count for events? What about trade shows and conferences with an online component? Does that count for online or events?” asked Jeff Reinhardt, managing director of media investment bank Berkery, Noyes & Co. "Which bucket do you put the revenue in?"

Hughes countered that "those revenues should be part of the event package."

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